In-form Luton edged closer to the Championship play-off places thanks to a deserved 2-1 win at Stoke.
Danny Hylton and substitute Cameron Jerome were on the mark in the second half as the Hatters sealed a hard-earned fifth victory in seven league games, leaving them two points off the top six.
The Potters could find themselves in hot water with the Football Association after objects – including a plastic bottle – were launched towards celebrating Luton players following their second goal.
It was 11 minutes before the hosts crafted the first opportunity of the game at a breezy bet365 Stadium.
Tyrese Campbell turned smartly before seeing a crisp left-footed strike deflect off Tom Lockyer before fizzing off target.
The swirling wind appeared to be affecting the flow of the game, particularly for Luton.
Campbell went close again when he took a short pass from Ben Wilmot before curling in an effort which Hatters goalkeeper Jed Steer got down well to save.
Michael O’Neill’s men were building up some positive momentum, and Josh Tymon was next to test Steer with a strike from a very acute angle.
Luton boss Nathan Jones – making a return to the club he spent an unhappy spell at in 2019 – was typically lively on the touchline, but his forward players were finding it tough to respond.
Shortly before the interval Luton caught a rare sight of goal.
James Bree clipped in a tidy cross from the right, and as wideman Amari’i Bell darted in at the back post, he could not quite steer his header towards goal.
Luton striker Elijah Adebayo saw a shot blocked early in the second period as the visitors sought something of a response, but again too many mis-placed passes and mis-judgements were proving costly for both sides.
In the 53rd minute Luton forward Harry Cornick pulled a neat ball back into the path of Allan Campbell, only for Stoke skipper Joe Allen to make a terrific last-ditch tackle which smothered an attempted shot.
The Hatters’ tails were up, and they broke the deadlock three minutes later.
Again Cornick darted down the right before crossing for Hylton, who converted superbly at the near post.
The lead was soon almost doubled, with Adebayo charging on to Cornick’s through-ball before being denied by a superb save from Joe Bursik.
The home faithful were becoming a little restless as suddenly it was now Luton who were in control.
Adebayo saw an effort bravely blocked by Taylor Harwood-Bellis, while Cornick also saw a shot deflected off target.
Former Stoke striker Jerome sealed victory in the 81st minute when he coolly converted skipper Kal Naismith’s low cross.
Lewis Baker’s stoppage-time curling finish from 20 yards proved scant consolation for Stoke.
What the managers said…
Stoke’s Michael O’Neill: “We were very poor in the second half. It had been OK in the first half and we seemed to be managing the conditions quite well, but the game became disjointed and we didn’t get the ball down and play in that second half. We lost two poor goals and we simply didn’t win enough duels. We are quite a young team for the Championship, but we allowed ourselves to get out-muscled and out-worked in what was a hugely disappointing performance.
“The most worrying thing for me, though, was the lack of self-belief. We really struggled with that side of the game, particularly in that second half. I know the supporters are frustrated, and of course they’re entitled to their opinions, I’ve no problem with that. They want to see a team that is capable of challenging for promotion from this division. I’m just not sure that we’ve got that at present.”
Luton’s Nathan Jones: “I couldn’t have asked the players for any more. In the first half we could have produced a little more quality, but in the second half we really took control of the game. We were super aggressive on the night, and without being disrespectful to Stoke, we could and probably should have scored even more goals. It was a really wonderful performance from the first minute to the last, and I’m really proud of the lads.
“We limited Stoke to very little in the way of chances, and that has to be a good thing and a huge positive. I think we’re safe from going down now. With the resources we have at a club like ours it has to be about staying in the division first and foremost, and I think we’ll do that now. We just have to keep believing in what we can possibly achieve now.
“Both sets of fans sang my name tonight, but with very different words. It’s a regret of mine I wasn’t more successful when I was here. I know I should have given them better results during my time here.”